Rangers star ‘knew it wasn’t going to be easy’ to put away Hurricanes, win series

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

This wasn’t the postgame Vincent Trocheck we’re accustomed to seeing in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs. There was no wide smile, quick wit and long thoughtful answers to the media’s questions.

No, this was a grim Trocheck, gritting teeth and giving short, somewhat irritated answers following the New York Rangers’ Game 5 loss at home to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Allowing four unanswered goals in the third period of a 4-1 loss and failing to put away an opponent for the second straight game after running out to a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Second Round will do that even to the most affable players, like Trocheck.

“I don’t know that something snowballed tonight. i mean they scored a couple goals in the third,” Trocheck said, referencing a word used in a reporter’s question. “It’s a seven-game series against a team that’s three points behind us in a record-breaking season. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”

That is true. These teams are very evenly matched, the Hurricanes’ 111 points just three fewer than the franchise-record 114 by the Rangers.

On their way to grabbing a 3-0 lead in this best-of-7 series, the Rangers won three tightly-contested one-goal games. One was decided in regulation, one in overtime and one in double overtime.

The Rangers earned those wins, but it’s not like the Hurricanes were being blown out of the series. A bounce here or there, or a clutch special teams play — like in Game 4 on Brady Skjei’s game-winning power-play goal — and this series could’ve been 2-1 either way.

So, that the Rangers are up 3-2 after five games is perhaps less surprising than their 3-0 lead was.

But the fact remains that the Blueshirts were up 3-0, surprising or not, and have failed to finish off the Hurricanes in Game 4 in Raleigh and Game 5 at Madison Square Garden. And that’s concerning.

Also concerning is the manner with which the Rangers dropped the fifth game.

“They wanted it more in the third period,” Trocheck said.

“It was more than the third period,” countered Rangers coach Peter Laviolette.

Related: Rangers coach ‘concerned’ with Game 5 loss, but remains confident

Rangers get another chance to close out Hurricanes in Game 6

After winning their first seven games this postseason, including a sweep against the Washington Capitals in the first round, the Rangers are in the midst of their first playoff adversity. Their red-hot power play is now 0-for-11. Artemi Panarin is minus-5 the past two games and failed to pick up Evgeny Kuznetsov when he banged home a rebound for what turned out to be the game-winning goal Monday. Adam Fox is pointless in the past four games. And Trocheck hasn’t quite been his usual energetic self the past two games when he’s also been held off the score sheet.

Yet, the Rangers are still up in this series. And it would be stunning to think they could lose four in a row with the team they have. But these Hurricanes, well, they’re not going away easily either.

“I don’t think we thought this would be a cakewalk,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said. “Lost two, face a little adversity. See what we’re made of going down to Carolina for Game 6.”

For all the comparisons between this Rangers team and the 1994 Stanley Cup champions — Presidents’ Trophy winners, 7-0 start in the playoffs — the most important one may yet come. Those ’94 Blueshirts were a great team, but their true greatness shone through when facing their biggest adversity. Down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Final, winning Game 6 on the road after trailing 2-0 to the New Jersey Devils. Then winning Game 7 in double overtime after the Devils tied it with mere seconds remaining in regulation.

That team also lost Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Vancouver Canucks at home in overtime in Game 1, needed a brilliant Mike Richer penalty-shot save against Pavel Bure to escape the abyss in Vancouver and let a 3-1 series lead slip away before they won Game 7 at MSG.

The lesson is that it’s never a “cakewalk,” to use Trouba’s phrase, on the way to winning the Stanley Cup championship.

So, the Rangers face adversity now against a worthy opponent. It’s time to seize the moment.

“At the end of the day, we lost the game and we get a new chance on Thursday,” Mika Zibanejad concluded.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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